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The Wicket Gate

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 4, 2021 12:01 am

The Wicket Gate

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 4, 2021 12:01 am

When we are convicted of sin, we may be tempted to despair at our sinfulness. Or, we may try to remove our burden through obedience or works. Today, Derek Thomas examines both of these dangers as they appear in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.

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Why do I call Romans 8 the best chapter in the Bible?

Because it is. Christians for centuries, I think, have turned to Romans 8 because it gives us the gospel. In one chapter, it talks about the doctrine of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And I had a deacon one time saying to me that this was in some way calling into question the inspiration of all of Scripture. And isn't all of Scripture? Great and the greatest.

And I said, well, just answer this question. If you've got two minutes to live, do I read the first few chapters of Chronicles, which is a list of names, or do I read Romans 8? And I think the answer is always going to be Romans 8, because it says everything that needs to be said about the gospel in one chapter. Before he wrote The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan was embarking on his own spiritual journey. The Pilgrim's Progress is a classic. Even if you haven't read it, you're probably somewhat familiar with the story of Christian and his journey to the celestial city. But what you may not know is that many of the challenges Christian faces parallel Bunyan's journey through life, and perhaps your own.

Today on Renewing Your Mind, Ligonier Teaching Fellow, Dr. Derek Thomas, takes us behind the scenes of this literary masterpiece. Well, welcome back to Lecture 2 on Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. And we're going to look at the events surrounding the wicket gate and how Christian gets through the wicket gate.

We left him in Lecture 1 running towards a light. He couldn't see the wicket gate, and he's running with his fingers in his ears. He's running away from the city of destruction. He's not listening to the pleas of his wife or his children, and he's saying, life, life, eternal life. Now he meets two friends.

He hasn't got to the wicket gate yet, and he meets two friends. Actually, they're neighbors of his in the city of destruction, and they're called pliable and obstinate. And the first thing that we see in this portion is Bunyan's attempt to portray worldly opposition to the gospel. That everyone who becomes a Christian will experience some kind of opposition, maybe from members of the family or maybe from friends at work and so on. Obstinate represents stubbornness and an immovable point of view, and the pliable is the opposite. He represents fickleness, a readiness to believe anything, except this, of course.

So let's eavesdrop the conversation just a little. This is obstinate. What are these things you seek since you leave all the world to find them? And Christian says, I seek an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.

And it is laid up in heaven and safe there to be bestowed at the time appointed on them that diligently seek it. Read it so, if you will, in my book. An obstinate says, Tersh, away with your book.

Will you go back with us or no? And Christian says, No, not I, because I have laid my hand to the plow. And at that point, obstinate leaves. But pliable continues walking with him and pliable says, The hearing of this is enough to ravish one's heart. But are these things to be enjoyed?

How shall we get to be sharers thereof? And Christian says, The Lord, the governor of the country, hath recorded that in the book, the substance of which is, if we be truly willing to have it, he will bestow it upon us freely. And pliable says, Well, my good companion, glad I am to hear these things.

Come on, let us mend our pace. Now, Alexander White, a famous illustrator and commentator on the characters of Pilgrim's Progress, gave some lectures in the late 19th century at St. George's Free Church in Edinburgh. And these are well-known books. There were a couple of volumes, characters from Pilgrim's Progress, and he makes a comment both about obstinate and about pliable. And his comment about pliable is especially interesting. Pliable was willing to go with Christian for the benefits that Christian describes. He wants eternal life. He wants the promise that God makes to bless you. This man is open to these things. If you were to ask him, Do you want to have your sins forgiven or do you want eternal life or do you want to be a Christian? He'd answer yes to every single one of them. He believes Christian because he believes everything. He's typical of many folk in our own time.

Don't you think that they're open to anything, whatever happens to work? And that's pliable. Now, pliable never reads the book. He was never burdened by the sense of his own sin. So he's like the seed in the Lord's parable of the sower in Matthew 13. He that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receives it. Yet has he not rooted himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation and persecution arises because of the word, by and by he is offended by them.

He doesn't have any root, and this is pliable. Bonin is commentating on various responses to the gospel. There's the response of obstinate, and he just says no and he goes away. But there's the response of pliable, who for a season at least seems to be interested in the gospel, seems to respond at least for a season. But then when trouble comes, he disappears. Now, the second thing we see in this part of the story is Bonin's attempt to describe how conviction of sin can actually lead you to a worse state of affairs before it actually gets better. Now, that's not true of everyone who is a Christian.

Not everyone has this biography. This is an autobiography, I think, of the way Bonin himself experienced salvation. And before he came to assurance of faith, he actually went down and down and down into further and further conviction and further depression with regard to the hopelessness of his condition.

Pliable is still there. He continues with Christian until they come to a bog, quicksand. It's a well-known place, of course, the Slough of Despond.

Now, you may say slough, or I've even heard the word slough, but in England it is slough, and in Bonin's time it was most definitely slough, the Slough of Despond. Now, because Christian is weighed down with this burden when he comes to this quicksand, of course, he begins to sink. But Pliable, because Pliable doesn't have a burden, Pliable is sort of light-footed, and he manages to free himself from this quicksand without too much difficulty. And next on the scene comes a man by the name of Help.

Again, these are evangelists, just like evangelists himself. Help is there to aid Christian on in the pathway to salvation, and Help puts out his hand, and he takes hold of Christian, and he pulls him out of the quicksand. Alexander White says of this section, in his description of the Slough, Bonin touches his highest watermark for humor and pathos and power and beauty of language. Now, upon getting stuck in the mire, Christian asks Help why this place isn't better signposted and why it isn't fixed, and the answer is very interesting. This mirey Slough is such a place as cannot be mended. It is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run. And therefore it's called the Slough of Despond, for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there arise in his soul many fears and doubts.

It's a discouraging place, and Help continues to describe how millions of instructions sent to try and mend the place have been swallowed up and that the lawgiver has placed steps to enable the traveler to find a way through. Well, Bonin is describing, I think, how he himself descended into a period of melancholy and despair. He was under conviction of sin in his own personal life for 18 months. He'd heard this sermon, he'd been rebuked about his blasphemy and his bad language, and he'd been told by a woman of ill repute outside a store one day that he was heading to hell unless he mend his ways. But he still hasn't found the gospel.

He still hasn't found the way of salvation and the way of assurance of the forgiveness of sins. So there's another incident now that takes place. Obscenet has gone pliable, managed to get out of the Slough of Despond easily because he had no burden, and Help has pulled Christian out of the Slough of Despond. And now there enters another character, a man by the name of Worldly Wiseman. And Worldly Wiseman is going to send Christian to a place called Morality, a little village called Morality, and there he is to meet with a man called Mr. Legality, who is skilled, so Worldly Wiseman says, he's skilled at removing burdens like the one Christian has.

Of course, this is the way of works. This is the way of obedience, that the way to remove your burden of sin is to do more, is to obey the Ten Commandments, is to throw yourself into a life of obedience. Now, a little later in the story, Evangelist will tell Christian three things about Worldly Wiseman. He'll say, first of all, that he turns Christian onto the wrong path. Secondly, that he makes the cross odious to him.

And thirdly, he suggests a way that can only lead to death, the way of works. Now, Bunyan says in his own autobiography, and I'm quoting here from Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, this is what Bunyan says, Thus I continued about a year. Our neighbors did take me to be a very godly man, a new religious man. He turned over a new leaf, he had pulled himself up by his bootstraps, he had tried to live an obedient life, and to the outward world, to the outward observance, he looked as if he was a new man. And indeed so I was, though yet I knew not Christ, nor grace, nor faith, nor hope. So, Bunyan is saying something very important here, that the way out of a conviction of sin is not going to be along the road of obedience.

It's not going to be along the road of obeying the Ten Commandments, of doing good works. Now, Bunyan in his own personal life was fond of the sound of tin-tin abulation. I wonder if you know that word, tin-tin abulation. It's church bells, listening to church bells. And as a married man now to his wife, he would love to go into the church in Bedford and listen to the bell ringers in Elstow Church. And he would go up right to the wood and put his ear next to the wood so that he could hear the reverberation of these bells. But as the conviction of his sins grew more and more intense, he began to fear that one of these bells would become unstuck and fall and kill him. This was part of his conviction that God was out to get him, that the wrath of God would catch him and destroy him. Now, that's his own personal experience, and some of that I think is playing out here in Pilgrim's Progress. So, Worldly Wiseman's advice then was to go to a town called Morality and to meet this man, Mr. Legality.

It sounded like good advice to Christian. So, he sets off in the direction of the town called Morality and discovers that this town is on the top of a very steep hill, and his burden is such that he thinks he cannot climb this hill. And in illustrative volumes of Pilgrim's Progress, now you'll have a little tableau, and you'll see Christian with this huge burden on his back, and he's climbing this very steep hill, and he doesn't feel as though he's going to make it to the top.

Listen to Bunyan's description of it. So, Christian turned out of his way to go to Mr. Legality's house for help. But behold, when he was got now hard by the hill, it seemed so high, and also that side of it that was next to the wayside did hang so much over that Christian was afraid to venture further, lest the hill should fall on his head. Wherefore, there he stood still, and he whatnot what to do. Also, his burden now seemed heavier to him than while he was in the way. There came also flashes of fire out of the hill that made Christian afraid that he should be burned.

Here, therefore, he sweat and did quake for fear. And then Bunyan introduces some of his poetry. Bunyan's poetry isn't always great poetry. It's always good theology, but he wasn't a great poet. When Christians unto carnal men give ear, out of their way they go and pay for it dear. For Master Worldly Wiseman can but show a saint the way to bondage and to woe. And that's an example of Bunyan's poetry, not great poetry. And now Christian begun to be sorry that he had listened to the advice of Mr.

Worldly Wiseman. It's, of course, Bunyan preaching the gospel. He's preaching Paul. He's preaching Romans 3.20. By the deeds of the law shall no man be justified. This was the discovery of Luther in the previous century to Bunyan, that by obedience, by acts of obedience to the law, by the works of the law, that no one, no man, no woman can be justified. Not the labor of my hands can fulfill thy law's demands. Could my zeal no respite know?

Could my tears forever flow? All for sin could not atone. Thou must save and thou alone.

That's how Augustus Toplady put it. Now, it's at this point that Evangelist enters again and asks what you might expect him to ask. You know, what are you doing here?

Why have you gone out of the way? He's supposed to be heading towards this light and to the wicket gate, and he has veered off the path to the town called Morality. Christian tells him his sorry tale, and Evangelist quotes from Scripture, from the book of Hebrews. See that you refuse not him that speaketh, for if they escape not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape if we turn away from him that speaketh from heaven. Hebrews 12, 25. And Christian falls down saying, woe is me, for I am undone.

More conviction, more burden of sin. And he reassures him that God will forgive. This is Evangelist now reassuring Christian that God will forgive all kinds of sin, no matter how dark and terrible they are. And Christian once again begins to wind his way toward the wicket gate, and in the process of time, he gets up to it and notices that over the gate there is a text. It's from Matthew 7 and verse 8, Knock, and it shall be opened unto you. And again, you are familiar, I'm sure, with the little tableaus, little etchings or drawings in Pilgrim's Progress of Christian knocking at the gate, and above the narrow gate there is this text from the Sermon on the Mount, Knock, and it shall be opened unto you. It is the free offer of the gospel that whoever knocks on this gate, the gate will open, no matter how great the burden, no matter how great the sins.

A man comes to the gate. His name is Goodwill. Don't you love these names that Bunyan conjures up? Mr. Goodwill, who asks who's there and from where he had come and what did he want? And Christian says, Here is a poor burdened sinner. I come from the city of destruction, but am going to Mount Zion, that I may be delivered from the wrath to come. I would therefore, sir, since I am informed that by this gate is the way thither, know if you are willing to let me in.

And Mr. Goodwill says, I am willing with all my heart, said he, and with that he opened the gate. And Goodwill helps him through, actually pulls him through the gate, and because for one reason to the side there is a castle occupied by one called Beelzebub. Now that's interesting that Bunyan would have satanic opposition right at the point at which he enters the gate. And that's, of course, a mark of Puritan theology in the 17th century, that the Christian life is one of battle, it's one of hostility. We fight the world and the flesh and the devil. And so right at the entry gate there is the opposition of Beelzebub who's trying to wound him. He's sending arrows in the direction of the gate.

And so Mr. Goodwill sort of yanks him, pulls him in. I think you also see something that we will comment on in further lectures, something of Bunyan's Calvinism. You know, Bunyan is a Calvinist. He's an unapologetic Calvinist.

He is more than familiar with the rigors of Calvinism, and especially with regard to Soteriology, with regard to the doctrine of salvation. And that ultimately that we are saved not because of human decision, not because of a desire on our part, but that we are saved entirely by the grace and the mercy and the power of God. Bunyan recognizes that in the debates earlier on in his own century, in the Synod of Dort, for example, and in the discussions of the Westminster Assembly, that these are important matters and that the way we are saved, the way we are actually brought into union and communion with Jesus Christ is because God ultimately wills it, that it's not our doing, and it's not even our willing.

Yes, we do will, but because God makes us willing in the day of his power. And so into the very narrative itself, he introduces illustratively this idea that at the end of the day, Christian is sort of pulled in through the gate. And from this point onwards, Christian is a saved man. He is a redeemed man.

Or is he? Because he still has his burden. And actually he will have his burden for many more pages. And we will have to go through a variety of places, surprising places, before Christian actually loses his burden.

And that's raised the issue at what point exactly did Christian become a Christian. And I want you to bear that in mind as you further read into Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Dr. Derek Thomas helping us see the incredible depth in John Bunyan's The Pilgrim's Progress.

This book has been a beloved companion for generations of Christians, and it brings into sharp focus the trials we face as believers, but it also reinforces the great hope that we have in Christ. Dr. Thomas' series covers the entire book in 19 lessons, and we'd like to send you the three-DVD set. Just request it today with your donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. You can do that online at, or you can call us here at Ligonier. Our number is 800-435-4343. One of my colleagues is standing by to take your call. Dr. Thomas is one of our teaching fellows here at Ligonier.

R.C. Sproul handpicked these gifted men for their broad experience in the pulpit as well as in the classroom. They serve us by remaining true to our founding purpose, and today we have benefited from Dr. Thomas' expertise on John Bunyan's classic work. Again, we'd like to send you the 19-part series that he taught on The Pilgrim's Progress. Call us at 800-435-4343 with your gift of any amount. You can also make your request online at Well, tomorrow our journey through The Pilgrim's Progress takes us to Interpreter's House. Christian has many lessons to learn, as do we, so join us here Friday for Renewing Your Mind. .
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-12-18 23:38:26 / 2023-12-18 23:47:11 / 9

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